One of the icons of Morocco, La Mamounia, considered one of the best hotels in the world, has just reopened its doors after a renovation that has oscillated between 17 and 20 million euros.
Its director, Pierre Jochem (Leopold Ville, Democratic Republic of Congo, 1958), receives CincoDías during the opening of the hotel to discuss the challenges facing the tourism sector. He assures that, for his part, the essence of the hotel remains the same: that of the 600 people who make up its human team.
How has Covid-19 been experienced in La Mamounia? The reform has coincided with the confinement. Like everyone else, we had to adapt to the new situation. Initially, the renovation had to start at the end of May, but, as in most countries in the world, we were confined in mid-March.
That made everything a little more difficult because we were working from home, but we still had to decide the last steps of the renovation, so we had to adapt. We finally managed to start the renovation on time even though we were confined here in Morocco for four months.
Now that they have reopened, how have you observed the occupation? It is a mixture of several things. Right now there is very little movement, business is very quiet, but one of the main reasons is that the borders of Morocco are still closed to tourism, you can only enter and leave for professional reasons.
Here in Marrakech, a large percentage of our business is tourism, so the city is empty. In November we had an occupancy of 15%, when it is normally 82% at this time. Between December 24 and January 3 we are usually at 100%, but it will be around 24%.
It’s a shame that they have done all this remodeling and cannot be visited. I know, it’s frustrating, but at the same time we know that this will work again and when it does, we will be prepared.
I think we were lucky because 2018 was a very good year, 2019 was extraordinary and 2020 was going to be even better, so we decided that we could only close three months for the reform.
Normally, the best time to close is when there is not much business and we were lucky enough to coincide with a very bad period. In this regard, we have no regrets. Also, our competitors had not planned a renovation, but next year, when everything returns and we are in a good time again, the hotel that needs to be renovated will have no choice but to close. We were very lucky.
Will the demands of luxury change after the pandemic? I don’t think so, people will get used to it again very quickly and everything will be the same again in no time. Although it is true that people have rethought life and its priorities a lot; things that were seen as very important before will not be so later.
People who complained a lot or were complicated, maybe they will stop doing it.
The other day we had a very good client who returned to La Mamounia again and told us that she almost died with Covid-19, she was in a coma for three weeks and is still recovering; for her, having four or five days of vacation here was the best gift in the world; People will rethink that there are things in life more important than they thought.
Many countries are forcing PCRs to exit or enter. Do you think this can deter you from traveling? No, I think it makes them more confident. I prefer to know that I am negative when I travel and I imagine that the same thing will happen to the rest of the world.
It is true that having to take a test on the way back, with the risk of testing positive and having to stay locked up in another country can make people worry, but, on the other hand, when you are on board you know that everyone has negative.
The vaccine will bring a lot of hope to tourism because people want to travel. At that point, the tourism managers in each country will have to do a lot of work to prove that the destination is safe. But people will want to travel even more than before. When we get the vaccine and things get back to normal, business will go very well.
Will the way you travel change in any way? During the first few months, beyond personal travel, people will think twice about taking long-distance trips. But once the vaccine is shown to be effective, people will go back to their normal lives and forget all this very quickly. I traveled a lot for work and will surely do it again as soon as I can.
He commented in the presentation that the most important thing at La Mamounia are the people who work at the hotel, how do they take care of them?
There are many things we do on a day-to-day basis to make sure of this. For example, when the hotel closed in March, we decided that everyone would receive 100% of the salary.
In Morocco we do not have the same system as in Europe and the economic compensation that the Government gave to the workers was very small, so they would have lost a very important part of their salary. Even now, when business is not going well, we have not fired anyone either.
During the months of confinement, in normal situations we would give a kind of bonus and we decided that this year we would pay it the same. In the renovation, many things that are not seen have also been done: we have remodeled the changing rooms and the cafeteria. I think we have the best employee restaurant in the country.
And now? To control Covid-19 here we regularly test our employees. Obviously, if one tests positive, we send him home, but also if someone is not well one day, he can go see our internal doctor and he will send you home.
Depending on your symptoms, they will also do the test, but if you are only regular, you go home anyway and when you feel better, you come back. Meanwhile, we pay you the same. I know there will be a small percentage who will say that they are unwell because they want to go home, but I prefer that to come if they are unwell.
People need the money and we saw some cases where people hid that they were sick so that they could keep coming to work and that is very dangerous.